Here in Silicon Valley, it's hard to find jurors for Apple v. Samsung patent trial

The setting for the trial is the US District Court for Northern District of California, San Jose.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

It’s not easy finding a jury in Silicon Valley for a patent trial pitting Apple against Samsung. More than a half dozen times, US District Judge Lucy Koh excused potential jurors in the case because they owned Apple stock. As she tried to find eight jurors from among 74 candidates on Monday, three were excused because their spouses worked at Apple or a Samsung subsidiary.

One electrical engineer who works at Google was excused after he pulled out his Android phone and said his job is working on them. And one woman had ties to both Apple and Samsung. “Well, you might be fair then,” Koh quipped, getting a laugh from about 100 people packed into her courtroom in San Jose, California.

It’s a tricky process finding people who don’t tilt one way or another in Silicon Valley.

Apple and Samsung are massive tech companies whose businesses bleed into many lives, retirement funds and careers. And if you’re on the jury in this case, forget about making small talk about that slab of electronics that’s ubiquitous in our lives. “When you take a break or go to the bathroom, you’re not allowed to talk about what kind of phone you have or tablet you have,” Koh warned jurors.

For many in Silicon Valley, that’s like saying you can’t talk about the weather or your kids. The trial pits two of tech’s biggest titans against each other. Samsung phones were already found to have infringed five Apple patents, but at issue this week is how much Samsung must pay Apple in damages.

The Supreme Court in 2016 opened the door to Samsung’s view, that damages could be paid based only on the profit from components and not necessarily from the entire phone. Starting Tuesday, jurors will hear Samsung and Apple and their witnesses debate that point, then declare how much of a possible £399 million Samsung really has to pay.

Samsung must pay for patent infringement

Samsung is big enough to absorb a few hundred million dollars from its billions in profit, but the stakes are higher in the technology world. Samsung, joined by allies like Facebook, Google and Dell, wants a world where patents are narrower in scope and less likely to deal a major financial blow. Apple, which counts big fashion industry names like Calvin Klein as allies, wants the rest of the world to put a premium on design.

The companies are big enough that it’s also tricky finding jurors who didn’t know about the case, too. Questioning of a narrower pool of candidates focused on whether they’d heard about Apple v. Samsung.

Since it began in 2011 and went through many phases of trial, it’s no surprise many jurors said they had. “I’ve been following it for years,” said one man who eventually was excused. “I’m in the computer industry.”

Excuses, excuses

Another was excused after he said his company makes wireless tracking devices that compete with Samsung products. And of course, many were excused for more ordinary reasons, like scheduled business trips, duties taking care of children and financial hardship for people who run their own businesses.

It got to the point that Koh expressed some surprise when seeing how few juror candidates remained at one point. “We’ve lost so many people,” she said. “We had so many casualties this morning.” Opening arguments in the trial are set to begin Tuesday.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET’s newsstand edition. ‘Hello, humans’: Google’s Duplex could make Assistant the most lifelike AI yet.

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